Greenwashing and Biodegradable vs. Degradable



Have you heard the term "Greenwashing"?

If you care about the environment you are going to want to read this!

How big business is taking advantage of you.

A simple Google search for the term "greenwashing" will bring up a plethora of information about how companies are taking advantage of consumers that are concerned about the damage that plastic is doing to our environment.

Here, we will sum up for you what this means and the impact that it may have on your decision making about biodegradable and degradable products.

Biodegradable as defined by Collins dictionary, is something that is biodegradable and breaks down or decays naturally without any special scientific treatment, and can, therefore, be thrown away without causing pollution. 

Degradable is defined by Collins dictionary as waste products, packaging materials, etc capable of being decomposed chemically or biologically.

More often than not, if a company says that its product is degradable, it means that it requires a chemical process to break it down and will usually take years or even decades to degrade. In addition to this, even if it does degrade it usually will mean that it is broken down to such a state that it may no longer be visible, but will still leave behind micro-plastics which are harmful to the environment.

If a company's product is biodegradable, you can be sure that they will say it to be so! Do not be misled by companies saying that it is degradable, only accept biodegradable!

This is where "Greenwashing" comes in.

Greenwashing is a term that is being used to describe companies that use misleading information about the environmentally "friendliness" of a product.

As defined by the Cambridge dictionary Greenwashing is, "behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is".

This is the most common greenwashing strategy: a company highlights an eco-friendly program or policy, but the core of its business practices is not as sustainable as it seems.

"To be considered biodegradable, the decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests, and take place within a specified time period, which vary according to the 'disposal' method chosen.

When evaluating if a product is indeed biodegradable, customers should look for the appropriate/credible certification issued to the product, ensuring that a third party independent laboratory has verified and validated the claim presented by the marketers of the biodegradable product in question".

Products that are claiming to have additives added to the plastic to make them biodegradable are potentially misleading. TDPA or Totally Degradable Plastic Additives are added to the plastic during the manufacturing process and claim to break down the plastic under certain conditions. However, this may not necessarily be the case. Several studies have been done that show TDPA is not as effective as it claims and in fact it can cause more harm due to the amount of methane gas that it produces during the degrading process1.

In essence, is adding chemicals to an already environmentally damaging product such a great idea? We do not know what impact this has on wildlife or micro-organisms when they are consumed and then when we in-turn consume them! Ideally, we should be looking at products, most commonly single-use bags, that are made from PSM starch base, using corn starch and other plant renewable resources as raw materials.

Two important things to remember:

  • Look for the OK Home Compost accreditation - if it can be composted at home then it's about the safest you can get.
  • If it has plastic in it or mentions HDPE or PET (most common types) then stay away from it as it's likely that it's not truly biodegradable.

 

Suitable for industrial composting

 

Suitable for home composting

Also suitable for home composting

Take a look at our biodegradable bags.

Please note that biodegradability must be well-defined and guarded by the following elements:

  • The appropriate disposal method- composting, anaerobic digestor, soil, marine.
  • The time that is required for complete microbial consumption, in the designated disposal environment, such as a professional composting facility.
  • A short certain time frame, which is 180 days or less, for certified compostable products. 
  • Entire consumption of the substrate carbon, digested by environmental microorganisms, as measured by the evolved CO2 (aerobic) and CO2+CH4 (anaerobic) traits which leave no residues behind.
  • Plastic degradability, partial biodegradability, or plastics that are designed to eventually biodegrade, are not an option at all. Scientific research has indicated serious health and environmental consequences regarding this type of degradability, and certain states have already banned these types of materials.
  • Analysed computably by reputable International and National Standard Specifications- ASTM D6400 for all composting environments, ASTM D6868 for paper substrate in composting environments, EN13432 for compostable packaging and ISO 17088 for International composting environments. 
  • “If other disposal environments like landfills, anaerobic digestor, soil, and marine are specified, then data must be provided showing the time required for complete biodegrading using established standardized ASTM, ISO, EN, OECD methods” (Ramani, 2014). 

 

 

 

Sources:
http://sydney.edu.au/environment-institute/blog/greenwashing-marketing-tool/
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/greenwashing
https://www.foresightusa.com/single-post/2014/11/04/Biodegradable-Plastics-Let%E2%80%99s-Clear-Up-The-Confusion
1, http://theconversation.com/additives-to-make-plastic-biodegradable-dont-cut-it-39212
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/

 


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